Like most people my age, I used to make a great many mixtapes, back when these were on cassette and so were truly mixtapes. I welcomed the age of being able to burn compact discs in a computer, enabling easier mix creation and duplication.
I think it’s funny how few people have any equipment to play a CD anymore. And I’m not about to dig out my cassette deck and pay exorbitant prices for blank C-90’s on eBay. But I still have the occasional hankering to create a mix, and so I created this virtual mix with links to where the tracks are available on YouTube. Naturally, any track could be taken off that service at any time, so I expect a lot of dead links in this article in the future. I limited myself to an hour and twenty minutes, the maximum duration for a normal music CD.
I wrote in another piece about how much I have come to embrace November, what I have come to think of as the “un-month”. It feels to me like time is stretched as thin as the gauze-like clouds one usually sees across the sky in this month. I wanted tracks that convey some November-ish to me, without being literally about the month, autumn or Thanksgiving. That said, some songs are more directly applicable to the month than others.
“Late November”, Sandy Denny
If there is one artist here I hope to introduce new listeners to, it is Sandy Denny. An astounding songwriter and vocalist, she was the only person to do guest vocals on a Led Zeppelin track when she appeared on “Battle of Evermore”. Really, I could have chosen any of number of tracks by her so, go figure, I go with the one that has November in the title, immediately violating my mission statement for this project.
“Seeing Other People”, Belle & Sebastian
This was the first song I heard by this group that made me take notice of them, possibly because the piano is reminiscent of so much of Vince Guaraldi’s work on the Peanuts specials.
“Train Song”, Vashti Bunyan
I love the delicate sound of this track. Then there’s the bass line, where the widely spaced individual notes remind me of that rhythmic “cha-chunk” sound one hears on a train; albeit, this one would have to be moving ridiculously slowly. I can imagine this being a train ride through an unpopulated area clouded in mist. Actually, the song conveys to me less the sensation of currently being on a train, and more like experiencing somebody’s memory of going on a trip.
“Making Losing Better”, Bridget St. John
There’s a similar vibe here to the Bunyan track. And, similar to Sandy Denny’s oeuvre, I could have chosen from any of a great number of tracks. But I mostly chose this particular recording because the fragility fits my mental image of this month.
“Travelling Song”, Pentangle
I apparently have a recurring theme of travelling happening here, which I would say was meant to represent the multitudes making the journey back to distant homes for Thanksgiving. I would say that, except the theme is accidental.
“Peppermint Patty”, Vince Guaraldi Quintet
This version is from the soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was finally released this year, 50 years after the special was first shown on television. Although I love this version, my favorite has only been released on the currently out-of-print CD Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues from the Charlie Brown Television Specials. I recently put that track on a mix for somebody who wanted my ten favorite songs of all time. I also just realized how ridiculously long the title of that album is.
“Outdoor Miner (Single Version)”, Wire
I am hard-pressed to think of another group that had such a stellar of run of first three albums as the UK’s Wire. They started as mostly punk on the first album and ended up doing abstract art rock by the third. Middle album Chairs Missing splits the difference with amazing pop and rock that consistently defies expectations and conventions. This single version of “Outdoor Miner” is significantly longer than what was on the album, and that fact alone indicates this is a different type of band. That, and this song is about a silverfish.
“The Same One”, Gene Clark
The Byrds are one of my favorite groups, but they lost something with the departure of Gene Clark. I am also a big fan of his solo work, and this is from his debut as such. Major label meddling led to backing vocals being added by the Gosdin Brothers without his knowledge. While that was a shitty thing to do, I confess the vocal harmonies are beautiful.
“Perfect Circle”, R.E.M.
Those who were into R.E.M. when debut album Murmur was released could not possibly imagine they would be filling stadiums roughly a decade later. This album seemed to come out of nowhere at the time and was as mysterious and intriguing as its cover image of a landscape overgrown with kudzu. No track better encapsulated that curiously timeless sensation than “Perfect Circle”. I have no idea what the lyrics are about, but something feels almost embarrassingly personal about them.
“Fear Loves This Place”, Julian Cope
As it ends in Halloween, October is rightly regarded the month for thinking about ghosts and watching horror movies. But I think November is just as perfect for all things spectral—it just takes on a more serious vibe. After all, the Mexican Day of the Dead is the day after Halloween. This Cope track evokes folk horror as effectively as the best movies of the genre. This is from the album Jehovahkill, which even extends that feeling to the artwork, which features such ancient tribal sites as Ohio’s Serpent Mound.
“Tarantula”, This Mortal Coil
This Mortal Coil wasn’t a real band, so much as various artists on Ivo Watts-Russell’s 4AD label who would largely perform ethereal covers of various songs. Their most famous interpretation is a take on Tim Buckley’s “Song for the Siren”, but this one feels more suitable for the month. Airy and slightly eerie, listen through headphones to enjoy the full AMSR sensation when the female vocals kick in.
“Kangaroo”, Big Star
This may be the only song I have ever heard where feedback takes on a quality I normally associate with violins. With these long, sustained drones, I don’t believe feedback has ever sounded as beautiful before or since. I also find it odd I always have the exact same imaginary music video in my head in time I listen to this. In my mental film, teenagers are filmed in slow motion partying in a suburban house. For some reason, they are setting off fireworks indoors and the smoke fills the house like fog. I have no idea why this track puts these particular images in my mind.
“Rocking Chair”, House Of Freaks
I didn’t want this mix to be one long dirge, but it is difficult to find upbeat tracks that still have that peculiar “November-ness” I’m looking for. House Of Freaks were alternative rockers who were on a major label for only a couple of albums in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This shoulda-been-a-hit is up-tempo without being overbearing. Slightly rural. Kinda folksy.
“She Said Yes”, Honeybus
It is astonishing how many great albums from past decades were obscure even in their own time and still waiting to be discovered by a larger audience. UK band Honeybus recorded the astonishing Story LP in 1969 and had already broken up by the time it was finally released a year later. The group did not reunite to tour in support of the disc, nor did the label have interest in promoting an album that appeared to be a sunk cost at that point. It’s a shame it is still little-known today, and the baroque-pop of “She Said Yes” is representative of what the unfamiliar have been missing.
“Almost Prayed”, The Weather Prophets
I have no idea what this strangely intriguing track is about, but I love how the chorus conveys a bizarre act of violence with a certain serenity: “I watched the swans in the diesel river/struck a match and watched it burn as the night/I almost prayed/I almost prayed”. I am a vegetarian and, even if I wasn’t, I’m not sure I would consider eating swan meat. Still, for those looking to put something different on the table this Thanksgiving, eating a swan that had been burned alive in a polluted river would make for more interesting table talk than yet another turkey cooked in a deep fryer.
“Prove My Love”, Violent Femmes
Another track to try to keep this mix from becoming excessively solemn. The first Femmes album has always sounded like cold weather music to me. I guess part of that is, with it being the ideal of “college rock”, I associate it with fall and how each year’s new batch of students is introduced to it around that time. Also, a snare drum played with brushes always makes me think of colder weather, and I have no idea why that is.
“Friendship Update”, The Go! Team
Picking up the pace even more is a track from The Go! Team’s debut album that channels some of the sound and feeling of the Guaraldi work for the Peanut’s Thanksgiving special. A pretty good mini-mix is just playing this, and the Belle & Sebastian and the Guaraldi tracks from earlier.
“Life Is A Season”, The Moon
Another 1960’s band that is waiting to be discovered is The Moon. Founding Beach Boys member David Marks was originally part of the line-up of this psychedelic group. For their debut album, they holed up for a year in a recording studio, apparently recording and dropping acid that entire time. “Life Is A Season” is from their second, and final, LP. It is just as gorgeous as the first, even if the label footing the bill wasn’t going to pay for another year of studio rental. The string quartet on this baroque pop track is perfect. I love the final passage near the fade out, where it sounds to me like the strings resemble a fog that pushes forward in pulses, expanding its reach with each surge. Kind of like the poem about the fog creeping in on tiny cat feet.
“Haunted When The Minutes Drag”, Love & Rockets
Yep, this is one long song, but it earns that time. There was a single edit, but it diminishes the impact.
“I Can Feel It”, Sloan
The bittersweet number I close this mix with was the closing track from this Canadian band’s sophomore release. Really, I could have chosen almost any track from that album, Twice Removed, to convey how November makes me feel. I almost went with “Loosens”, which is even closer in spirit but which I was worried was excessively somber for a mix where I tried the balance the lighter and heavier elements.
So there we go. Hope somebody hits the page someday and gives some of these tracks a listen. Ideally, some readers may even find artists to explore of whom they were previously unaware.